Reproductive & Genetic Technologies

Principles

The Bible teaches that God gives life as a gift. We believe that human life must be respected and protected through all of its stages, from conception to natural death. As Christians, in accordance with the Scriptures, we are also called on to care for the vulnerable, uphold human dignity and maintain family integrity.

The Issue

Reproductive and genetic technologies hold out great promise for many people
-- prevention and treatment of genetic diseases, children for those who are infertile, and major technological advances. However, some researchers have the attitude towards new research that "if we can do it, we must".  They see humans as nothing more than a set of genetic information which can and must change in order to improve[1]. This understanding allows for some reproductive and genetic practices which involve the destruction of human life. In vitro fertilisation, for example, tends to create more embryos than are needed. These "spare" embryos may be destroyed or used for research. Human embryonic stem cell research extracts stem cells from early human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.

Some of these technologies change our understanding of what it means to be human.  If parents can choose, for example, to give birth to a blond haired, blue eyed boy instead of a brown haired, green eyed boy, that boy will be product of their own design.  This will, in turn, change the structure and understanding of families. A surrogate mother carries and gives birth to a child in order to give it away. A family is created in order to be broken. If it were ever permitted, the reproductive cloning of adults would strike at the heart of what it means to be human while also blurring the distinction between parent and child. Anonymous donation of sperm or eggs withholds from the child the possibility of knowing his or her lineage and biological relatives.

Reproductive and genetic technologies hold out great hope for new ways to treat illnesses and infertility. For this hope we thank God.  Outside the limits within God's creation, however, these technologies could have vast, negative consequences.  Vulnerable people, such as infertile couples desperate to have a child or low-income women who may donate eggs or be a surrogate mother out of financial need, are at risk of exploitation through reproductive technologies. We risk turning children into commodities that can be molded and shaped in our own image.  Therefore we must be careful with practices that disregard human dignity and seem oriented toward the manipulation and ownership of children and of the very genetic makeup of human beings.

Footnotes

[1] Jeremy Rifkin, The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World.

Current Status

It has been over a decade since the federal government first began to address the need for legislation governing reproductive and genetic technologies. In 1993, the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies called for immediate intervention and concerted leadership at the national level to control the development and use of reproductive technologies. Since the Royal Commission, there have been numerous public consultations and two failed legislative attempts.

In 1995, the federal government asked researchers, scientists and medical practitioners to respect a voluntary moratorium on nine practices including commercial surrogacy, cloning human embryos, forming animal-human hybrids and retrieving eggs from fetuses and cadavers. Anyone using these technologies does not receive government funds; however, newspaper reports indicate these practices are ongoing[2].

The government has twice introduced legislation that died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued. Finally, Bill C-13 was passed Parliament in March 2004 and the Assisted Human Reproduction Act became law. It establishes a framework for regulating human biotechnology and reproductive technology and for prohibiting ethically unacceptable practices.

AG Canada vs AG Quebec Response

In December 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Attorney General of Canada vs. Attorney General of Quebec, Reference re: Assisted Human Reproduction Act.

In March 2009, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada filed its written legal argument (factum) with the Supreme Court of Canada for an EFC/Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops joint intervention in the case.

The Government of Quebec had challenged the Government of Canada’s constitutional capacity to regulate assisted human reproduction technologies and associated scientific experimentation.

The legislation in question, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, aims to protect the health, safety, human rights and human dignity of Canadians by either prohibiting or regulating certain activities, such as human cloning, surrogacy, sex-selection, and in vitro fertilization. The Act seeks to create a uniform legislative framework across the country to address these issues. The EFC’s intervention arguments were based on the uniqueness of human life and the national public interest in having one Canadian standard in regard to scientific research and medical applications.

For more information:

Open Letter to Ministers of Justice and Health, July 16, 2012

Commentary: Supreme Court to Render Decision on Assisted Human Reproduction Technologies on December 22, 2010 at ActivateCFPL Blog

EFC Media Release: Supreme Court Renders Mixed Decision on Assisted Human Reproduction Act

EFC/CCCB Joint Factum (Legal Arguments)

EFC/CCCB’s March 13, 2009 joint press release

AG Canada v. AG Quebec, Quebec Court of Appeal, 2008

Assisted Human Reproduction Act, 2004

The Act contains long-awaited and important prohibitions on activities such as human cloning, commercial surrogacy and the sale and purchase of human sperm and eggs. However, the bill does allow human embryos to be destroyed for research purposes.

The Act also establishes the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency of Canada, a regulatory body responsible for licensing and inspecting activities controlled under the Act. Health Canada is currently engaged in consultations to develop regulations under the Act. In September 2005, Health Canada released the first set of proposed regulatory guidelines for section 8 of the Act, the last prohibition under the Act to be brought into force and the only one that requires the development of regulations. The Act lists prohibited and controlled activities, and it is the controlled activities that will be subject to regulations[3].

Section 8 prohibits the following activities unless a donor has given written consent:
• Using human reproductive material to create an embryo
• Removing human reproductive material from a donor’s body posthumously for the purpose of creating an embryo
• Using an in vitro embryo for any purpose

Health Canada has requested comments on an issue paper on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the genetic testing of in vitro embryos prior to implantation in a woman’s womb. PGD is a controlled activity under the Act, and therefore Health Canada will need to develop regulations to govern the practice. The EFC made a written contribution in response to Health Canada's request for public input regarding the regulation of PGD.

In December 2006, the federal government appointed the members of the Board of Governors of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the development, implementation and governance of Assisted Human Reproductive guidelines in Canada.

UN Resolution on Human Cloning

In a momentous victory for pro-life advocates worldwide, in February 2005 the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Human Cloning condemning all forms of human cloning. Ending a week-long special session devoted entirely to resolving this issue, the UN called on its Member States to adopt urgent legislation to outlaw all cloning practices "as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life."

The declaration ends three years of UN deadlock caused by countries seeking approval for cloning research; the United Kingdom, Belgium and Singapore led the opposition to a total ban, claiming that stem cells from cloned embryos will treat various illnesses in what they call “therapeutic cloning”. Not a single person has ever been helped by these stem cells, while ethical adult stem cells are providing miraculous treatments for numerous conditions, including spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's Disease, cancer, heart failure and blindness, doing what cloning supporters can only promise. Accordingly, this declaration sets an international standard and represents the international community uniting in condemning all human cloning as exploitative and unethical.

 

[2] "Surrogate motherhood a growth sector despite federal disapproval," The Globe and Mail, May 31, 1999; "Web site offers $2,000 to human egg donors," The Globe and Mail, May 13, 1999.
[3] Health Canada, Proposed AHR (Section 8) Regulations: Q & A,  http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/reprod/hc-sc/legislation/question_e.html

Statistics

Canada’s birth rate has been in steady decline for many years, falling to an all-time low of 10.5 births per 1000 population in 2002. [4]. At the same time, infertility rates are increasing, and it is estimated that between 20 and 30 per cent of Canadians are impacted by infertility. As a result, more and more Canadians are seeking help and treatment for infertility.

In November 2005, the Canadian Fertility and Andrology society released the nationwide results of assisted human reproduction in Canada for 2003.They reported a summary of success rates for all IVF clinics in Canada. For 7415 IVF treatment cycles undertaken in 24 out of 24 IVF centres in 2003, the overall birth rate was 24% per cycle started.  69% of the births were singletons, while 95% of the multiple births were twins. [5].

Footnotes

[4] Statistics Canada. Births 2002. http://www.statcan.ca/english/freepub/84F0210XIE/84F0210XIE2002000.htm
[5] Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, Human Assisted Reproduction Live Birth Rates for Canada. Accessed April 11, 2006 at http://www.cfas.ca/english/news/Nov17-2005.asp

What You Can Do

As individuals:

  • Be prepared to apply the biblical principles to your own reproductive issues or to those around you
  • Pray for those who experience infertility
  • Be aware of the options, and the consequences of those options, for overcoming infertility. For example, what if there are embryos left over from IVF procedures?
  • Be prepared to support friends who find out that they are going to have a child with disabilities, or who will face the joys and challenges of a multiple birth.

As a church:

  • Pray for those who experience the pain of infertility. Help them to look to God, rather than rely solely on technology, to help them.
  • Encourage those with infertility problems to consider adopting a “left over” embryo from another couples IVF treatments as an alternative to using ova or sperm from an “anonymous” donor.
  • Be prepared to support people in the congregation that have children with disabilities.

As a citizen:

  • Raise the ethical concerns with embryonic stem cell research. Ask your MP to support adult stem cell research as a viable alternative.

 

Resources

All items related to reproductive and genetic technologies in the EFC Resource Library. These include:

Recovering What Was Lost: Recapturing the Integrity of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2012)
Bill C-13: EFC Final Review (2003)
Bill C-13: The EFC's letter to MPs on the motions to amend Bill C-13 (2003)
Bill C-13: EFC Recommendations (2002)
Harvard Mouse Case: Legal Arguments (2002)
Human Stem Cell Research: Briefing Notes (2002)
Notes for Oral Comment to the House of Commons Health Committee on Bill C-56 (2002)
Human Cloning: Letter to the Health Minister (2001)
Notes for Oral Comments on Assisted Human Reproduction Act (2001)
Patenting Higher Life Forms (2001)
Stem Cell Research Brief (2001)
Response to Health Canada's Workbook (2000)

Brief on Bill C-247 (1999)
Brief on Biotechnology and Health (1998)
Brief on the Canadian Biotechnology Strategy (1998)
Changing Genes: A Christian Approach to Human Genetic Testing (1998)
Brief on Bill C-47 (1997)
Brave New World? (1996)
Brief to the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies (1990)